George Church on the future of genome editing

I sat down with geneticist George Church to talk about perhaps the most ambitious scientific project yet attempted–directing human evolution.

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Alex Harsley is an unsung doyen of New York photography

My story about Alex Harsley for the Economist

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At the 4th Street Photo Gallery on the corner of the Bowery, silver-gelatin prints are strung together like clothes on a laundry line. There are portraits of Muhammad Ali and Jean-Michel Basquiat, plus a series of vintage cityscapes meticulously captured over 60 years by Alex Harsley, an unsung doyen of New York photography.

The city has been Mr Harsley’s home since 1948, when, aged ten, he moved there from South Carolina. He took his first photograph ten years later, and became the first black photographer to work for the city’s district attorney’s office. His scintillating pictures freeze moments in New York’s evolution from the 1950s to the present. “It could start with the smell of something burning,” he says of his method. “And then you see a family sitting on the steps of a funeral home pensively looking at the firemen going through their routine.”

Some of the scenes in the collection were captured from the window of his old apartment in Harlem; they include images of black activists, streets submerged in snow and shots of the Crown Heights riots of 1991. A.D. Coleman, a photography critic, says Mr Harsley has been able to capture the lives of minority groups by making himself “invisible”. His aim has been to assemble these fragments into an extended history of the city.

Mr Harsley’s gallery is a time capsule. But, as it has been for decades, it is also a hub for the city’s artistic underworld. In the 1970s New York’s photography scene was flourishing, but exclusive. As Mr Harsley puts it, “a number of great artists were swept aside” because they lacked connections. Nurturing talent became part of his mission. In 1971 he established The Minority Photographers, an outfit that helps up-and-coming artists exhibit their work. He opened his gallery two years later; many photographers have had their first shows there. Mr Harsley curated work by Andres Serrano and David Hammons, among others. “It was kind of a school for me,” says Dawoud Bey, a photographer and one of the beneficiaries; “a one-room schoolhouse in the East Village.”

“Sit down, start talking,” Mr Harsley would tell his visitors. In recent years, though, the neighbourhood around his gallery has changed as rents have risen. Some venerable retailers have been forced out. But Mr Harsley, who turned 80 last year, describes himself as a survivor. On warm mornings he still pedals his bicycle across the George Washington Bridge; the vintage sports car he parks in front of the gallery is a neighbourhood attraction. These days he works late as he digitises his archive, and keeps the doors open till midnight. “The Lower East Side keeps me in line,” he laughs.

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This article appeared in the Books and arts section of the print edition under the headline “A schoolroom in the Village”

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On a project in Saint-Petersburg, Russia

The story follows a youth art group called “Party of the Dead” based in Saint-Petersburg, and a strange case in which an artwork they created was ordered to be destroyed by the Russian court.

During a major demonstration in May, 2018 one of the members of the group was carrying a framed poster. The police confiscated the work and detained the woman who carried it. In a surprising twist, the court then has ruled that the artwork has to be destroyed. And the woman who carried it — a human rights advocate, Varvara Mikhailova — has to pay a huge fine.
We followed the story, and spent some time with the members of the group to understand what makes them tick.

 

 

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Videos produced for the WSJ

Bitcoin Gamble:

 

Colleges in the Crossfire:

 

Bits and pieces of other works, my reel:

 

 

 

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Above Moscow with Russian Spiderman

Sergei Devlyashov is a roofer and a self proclaimed Russian Spiderman, who likes to spend his free time on top of the highest buildings — hanging, climbing, running and performing crazy acrobatic stunts with no safety ropes. This stuff is extremely dangerous—hanging 500 feet up means that slightest mistake will turn tragic. It is also illegal. But Sergei is very passionate about his work.

He took us to the top of the construction site in Moscow. It was breathtaking.

Originally appeared at Heat Street:

http://heatst.com/life/exclusive-watch-russian-spiderman-risk-life-and-limb-high-above-moscow/

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Police Officer Secretly Paints For 25 Years, Leaves Behind Incredible Collection

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Standing in front of a painting by Richard De Cosmis – in his improvised garage studio in
Weehawken, NJ – was a revelation in many ways.

Broken turbulent lines depicted a figure of a man, his torso bent, placed against an abstract background. It was reminiscent of the contorted bodies in the works of Michelangelo and Francis Bacon. But the painting had its own unique style. Who is this artist?

Richard De Cosmis was a police officer. He died last year, leaving behind a large collection of paintings and drawings, as well as a mystery yet to be solved: why did he keep his passion and talent to himself producing over 100 paintings in seclusion, over the last 25 years? I was one of the few people to see the collection while it was being catalogued by the family, who still didn’t know what to do with all these works.

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A series of paintings in which figures are huddled together, positioned off balance, slumping over each other’s shoulder, or even as if floating weightless in midair, are simply striking. His family tells me that De Cosmis began painting after retiring from his 30 years of service as a police officer.

A self-taught painter, and a total outsider in the art world. A great number of books, sketches, and notes scattered throughout the studio suggest that he was, in fact, very conscious about what it was he was trying to achieve. I look through some of his handwritten notes: “Traditional out. Paint: or quit!”, “Essentials: mood, emotions, tension”, “Forget realism”, “Reduce Definitions”, “Negative space needs movement.” In one note he also admits being influenced by the New York School of Art and Bay Area Figurative Painters, but yet not following any formal academic principle in painting.

What is it that influenced De Cosmis’ work? Or perhaps even more curious – what inspired him to paint in the first place? It might be a mystery. As I stood in his studio surrounded by his works, I realized that it wasn’t just about passing the time. He had great instinct and sensibility, as well as a need to express something… Maybe it was about “crystalizing” the moment of one’s existence in a Proustian way, as all we have.

De Cosmis painted what was real. He stripped down the reality of a situation and illustrated it as a sensation. His paintings and drawings reflect what he was most familiar with – they are expressions of his experiences. Experiences of the futility of being, and the violence of life.

“He was quick to destroy his painting if he didn’t like it,” says his son Richard De Cosmis Jr., who is also a police officer, adding that his father would spend most of his day in the studio painting, but no one in the family could really comprehend what was motivating him.

De Cosmis showed his works to few, mostly his family. He didn’t visit museums and didn’t have interactions with other artists. Apparently, art books were his only point of reference, and there were plenty of them in the studio.

I then asked him what he saw in his father’s works and he said, “things he dealt with as a police officer.

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All of his brushes and tools are still on the table. A collection of art books- De Kooning, Kokoschka, Francis Bacon, Matisse, Muybridge’s “Human Figure in Motion” resting on the bookshelves. And one unfinished painting still on the wall.

His son revealed that De Cosmis, while being very serious about his works, never looked for public recognition. “He had a one man show once,” he explains, “and then never wanted to have another. He had offers to sell his paintings then, but he refused to put a price on them or to part with them.”

 

This story originally appeared at Heat Street:

http://heatst.com/life/police-officer-secretly-paints-for-25-years-leaves-behind-incredible-collection/

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With director Heiner Goebblels and incredible soprano Evgenia Sotnikova

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and the story at Harper’s:

http://www.bazaar.ru/culture/heroes/rezhisser-khayner-gyebbels-pustaya-stsena-vo-vremya-spektaklya-shag-navstrechu-voobrazheniyu-zritelya/

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Many faces of Muhammad Ali

This story appeared at Heat Street, Dow Jones http://www.heatst.com

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Muhammad Ali by Alex Harsley, 1972

Muhammad Ali, an American hero, a martyr, a provocateur, a clown, an uncompromising black nationalist and a great performer who brought a profoundly human face to a savage and dangerous sport of boxing. Some said he was a narcissist with a constant need for attention. Others called him a madman, a rebel. Norman Mailer put it simply “not comprehensible, for he could be a demon or a saint, or both.”

A showman, an entertainer, a loud mouth, Ali was also compared to a six foot parrot who keeps screaming from the stage “I am a great performer, I am a great performer” or “I am the greatest, I am the champ.” He made it part of his “show” to start the battles long before the ring, indulging his opponents in physiological warfare. Like that one day when Ali came to the door of a boxer Floyd Patterson calling him a rabbit and then with all theatricality handing him a bag of carrots.

In his 1964 interview to Sports Illustrated Ali said “Where do you think I would be next week if I didn’t know how to shout and hiller and make public sit up and take notice? I would be poor, for one thing, and I would be down in Louisville, my hometown washing windows or running an elevator and saying “ yes suh” and “no suh” and “knowing my place”.

He was outspoken, in fact he was the first “to talk in boxing”. He fiercely advocated African American pride and racial justice. He refused to be drafted during the Vietnam War, which made him an exile in boxing between the ages 27 to 30. He changed his name from Cassius Clay, what he called a “slave name” to Muhammad Ali and converted from Christianity to Islam. He was certainly an invention of himself.

In his interview to Jose Torres he said: The Vietnam War. Didn’t I take a stand when it was unpopular? Wasn’t I right? I changed my name to Muhammad Ali. Aren’t black kids changing their names today? I was the first to talk in boxing. Now all boxers talk. They are writing the poems, doing the shuffle, clowning in the ring, using my gimmicks, giving interviews. They never did that until someone who could see further came along.”

Another side of Muhammad Ali was captured by a great photographer Alex Harsley. Harsley spent time with Ali back in 70s in his training camp. Below are memories from his time spent with Ali…Along with the photos…Up Close and Personal…

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Muhammad Ali by Alex Harsley, 1972

“Ali liked to show films about Jack Johnson late in the evenings. Johnson was the first African American heavyweight champion and was Ali’s all-time hero. That night we watched The Great White Hope –a 1970 film with Jack Jefferson playing Johnson. Ali had his 16 mm film projector and everyone would just stand around and watch him figure it out, no one could touch the projector.”

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Muhammad Ali by Alex Harsley, 1972

“He was a great actor. When I was with him, he was a very quiet, introverted, but when press showed up he would immediately go into being a showman. Just like when he was at the ring”

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Muhammad Ali by Alex Harsley, 1972

“It was a whole different thing for me to see Muhammad, this kind, introverted person, then go to the ring and smack someone as hard as he could with his gloves and hear the sound of a glove hitting the body. After third round you could see him in ultimate pain.”

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Muhammad Ali by Alex Harsley, 1972

“That time was transitional for Ali. He just lost a major fight to Joe Frazier. He wasn’t in a good state of mind, he had to start all over again–training and proving himself in a long run. He knew the sacrifice he was going to make to continue boxing till the end.”

“This photograph is really important. It captures Ali looking at his daughter and shows this immediate relationship and bond that was formed between them. This is an image of him on the ring after he was defeated looking back at his latest offspring.”

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Muhammad Ali by Alex Harsley, 1972

“’There is a horse right there, Ali!  Come ride a horse,’ I said. This is how Ali got on the horse for the first time. It was a great photo opportunity. It was also interesting to see how Ali would feel on top of the beast, how he would make it go where he wanted it to go. Of course, Ali mounted the horse from the wrong side and looked semi comfortable. But he liked to experience these new things. A man who is always in control, who literally knows what is going on around him almost 360 degrees was learning how to ride a horse.”

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With Muhammad Ali in the darkroom

Printing a photograph of Muhammad Ali with an incredible photographer Alex Harsley.

 

 

 

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Will the “Japanese from the Federal” Save Brazil From Terrorism?

 

japa fed 2The torch has arrived in Brazil and the days to the opening of Rio summer Olympics are on a count down. And in this vast country with a 500 hundred plus year history, the all time hero, the man who is putting ‘order’ to the chaos, is a tiny “Japa” (a son of Japanese immigrants, as are six million in Brazil), a high ranking Federal agent, serious as hell, who gets the job done and arrests the highest authorities in the country, counting in the former president Lula, Congressmen and so on.

Yet the question that concerns many– is Rio de Janeiro safe enough to host more than half a million tourists? And we are not talking about safety concerns because of the zika virus, or sewage-infested waters in which some athletes will compete, or safety in the midst of the protests in Brazil’s political crisis. In fact, Rio’s street demonstrations resemble something more like a carnival parade… But the question is really –will Brazil manage to secure Olympics from any potential terrorism? How will our Japa friend or, indeed, the troops, distinguish a real bomb from the ever so frequent fireworks in this festive country of samba “beleza pura”?

The concern is quite legitimate. There has never been a terrorist attack in Brazil’s history. Of course, if we don’t count that 40 years ago, during the military dictatorship, anyone in opposition was a “terrorist”, and was jailed and tortured. In fact, current President Dilma Rousseff herself was among those terrorists back then and perhaps, her impeachment–in the grand scheme of things–is a microscopic grain of salt…

But when it comes to such a worldly event, to the torch, all that inflammatory ‘flame’ burning up the headlines of the world literally and not so literally; all the political innuendos and egos of all the countries competing– will Brazil be prepared to deal with real terrorism threats?

Of course, Olympics is, in principle about sports and about peace. It is about stunning opening ceremonies where the host presents its history; it is about adrenaline, celebration and the world coming together as one. However, Olympic Truce seems to have worked only in Ancient Greece whereas the modern Olympics has had to contend with wars, boycotts, protests, walkouts, and terrorist attacks.

We can only nervously gaze at the map of Brazil with its uninhabited Amazon forest, almost the size of Europe… And follow the news about just another high-profile official connected to the games to exit in recent days. Brazil’s sports minister, George Hilton, is out, the Head of security out…

Maybe the new Brazilian anti-corruption heroes judge Moro and agent Newton Ishii, The dreaded Japa Fed, who are leading the infamous operation Lava Jato investigation (Car Wash) into the state controlled oil company Petrobras– will protect the country on all fronts?

But jokes aside, previous games the world didn’t have the ISIS threat hanging over its shoulder. Now it does. And even then… The chance of a terror attack during the 2012 London Olympics was “severe”–second highest classification level. Remember how the UK was placing high-velocity missiles on the roof of residential buildings in East London? Sochi games in 2014 had a very high threat of a terror attack as well when 34 were killed in a bus explosion near the host city and Dagestan military group posted a video promising a memorable Olympics. Same goes for the Beijing games 2008 that had a “ring of steel” security with more than 100.000 soldiers deployed, after 16 were killed in a terrorist attack right before the games.

It is reassuring that Brazil promised 85000 troops protecting Rio. Let’s only hope that their method of dealing with the potential terrorism isn’t going to be by singing “Girl from Ipanema” out of tune.

 

 

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